“Reason and emotion are not antagonists.”
– Nathaniel Branden
Try as we might, it’s impossible for us to separate reason from emotion. There’s no such thing as following your heart instead of your head (or thinking with “the little head instead of the big one,” for that matter.) Virtually all of our decisions — business decisions, political preferences, life choices — are made based on a combination of reason and emotion, and that mixture is far too messy to ever isolate the point where one ends and the other begins.
Branding works because it plays on your emotions and your reason. It doesn’t give you a list of product benefits and hope you’ll rationally choose this product over a competitor. It goes after your whole mind — and frankly, you are powerless against its force, if it’s done well. You are powerless because, as Spock-like as you may think you are, you can never separate your brain from your feelings.
The Frame Is More Important Than the Picture
Facts don’t speak for themselves. They need framing to be understood — and that’s where the real battle for public opinion and brand preference takes place.
For example, “estate tax” and “death tax” are two terms describing the same thing. However, if you survey Americans, the majority favor the estate tax and oppose the death tax. But framing goes beyond simple wordplay. When done well, it aims directly at our greatest hopes and deepest fears — and ties these to our decisions, including purchase decisions.
The author George Lakoff says that, in the world of U.S. politics, Americans tend not to vote on issues; instead, they view the country metaphorically, as a family, and vote on the type of family they identify with — a family dominated by a strict father (the Republican party) or a nurturing mother (the Democrats). The emotional impact of these frames is enormous, and determines what facts resonate with the public.
Girly-Man Democrats and Erratic Republicans
For example, Republicans have been effective in emasculating their Democratic opponents by using images of the slightly built Michael Dukakis in a tank, or John Kerry windsurfing — images that reinforce the “softness” of the Democrats in the public’s mind. Similarly, the Obama campaign was effective in portraying John McCain as “erratic” — not the kind of strict father Americans could trust to lead them.
Until I read Lakoff’s work on frames, I wondered, as many political analysts have, why the public tends to line up with Democrats on issues ranging from abortion rights to a progressive tax system — but has generally voted for Republicans in national elections for the past 30 years. I was particularly interested since my own parents were die-hard Republicans despite supporting the Democratic position on the majority of issues.
The answer is that they supported the Republican frame.
Frames in Branding
You can’t brand your organization successfully without creating and leveraging frames — for your customers, for your investors, for your employees. There’s an old story about someone asking a janitor at NASA what he did for a living. His reply: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”
The facts are that he’s mopping the floors, scrubbing the bathrooms, and making minimum wage. But framed as part of a larger, inspirational mission, this emotional context is far more important than the facts.